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Old 23rd November 2011, 10:12 AM   #46 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Peter it sounds as if all your really asking is for authors to take credit (and responsibility) for what they write. as such i cant see why anyone would argue with you.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 11:19 AM   #47 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

In a sense, I do agree with Peter. We do create the characters, they can't "truly" do anything without us at the keyboard, but at the same time we can't do anything they wouldn't want to do. I could get on my keyboard and write a fanfiction where Dr. Who marries the Master, teams up with the Daleks and go on the conquer the universe. And it would suck, because everyone knows that for all that to happen the main character would have to do a forced face/heel turn that goes against the grain of everything he stands for. The writer is not in complete control, not if they want to call themselves a good writer.

As for characters going to being a squiggle on a page after the writer's death... Maybe. But I think truly exceptional characters will still speak to readers after the writer is no longer around. You can still feel Ahab's madness, groan along with Frodo as he struggles against the ring and marvel at the love induced stupidity of Romeo and Juliet. I think calling them squiggles belittles the ability of writers who manage to create characters that still mean something centuries after their time.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 12:12 PM   #48 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

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Originally Posted by MemoryTale View Post
In a sense, I do agree with Peter. We do create the characters, they can't "truly" do anything without us at the keyboard, but at the same time we can't do anything they wouldn't want to do. I could get on my keyboard and write a fanfiction where Dr. Who marries the Master, teams up with the Daleks and go on the conquer the universe. And it would suck, because everyone knows that for all that to happen the main character would have to do a forced face/heel turn that goes against the grain of everything he stands for. The writer is not in complete control, not if they want to call themselves a good writer.
The bolded sentence can mean one of two things:

1. That a writer cannot control a reader's reaction to his writing, and cannot guarantee that they will believe in their characters' decisions and motivations.

The above is perfectly reasonable, and undeniably true.

2. That there are things a writer cannot write because characters exercise some sort of control beyond the strictures of the story, a control that supercedes that of the writer.

The above is fanciful nonsense.

A writer is in complete control. Only the writer places the words on the page, only the writer describes the characters, who they are, and what they do. It is perfectly possible that someone could write about the Doctor teaming up with the Master to conquer the universe. It may not seem plausible given the canon; but those words can be written. That story can be told.

A good writer is in complete control of what he or she puts on a page. Always.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 12:32 PM   #49 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Good points: and we are only arguing semantics - whether the character 'takes control' or whether it is the creative mind of the writer is giving free rein so it appears this is happening, is all correctable/improvable/dispensible in the editing process...
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Old 23rd November 2011, 12:41 PM   #50 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Agree with Mark. This idea that characters are real or in control is such a typical romanticization of the writing process.

I'd argue that most characters seem to possess a mind of their own in the early stages because the writer does not yet understand what he wants out of his creation.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 01:11 PM   #51 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

I think the characters take control because the writer's subconscious mind is running way ahead of the conscious mind. The subconscious mind has more time to work on these things, since it's not caught up in the usual day to day stuff. It is also, I believe, more purely creative, and I believe that we should always listen to it. It has the time and the ability to make connections long before our outward selves could possibly make them. It's not a matter of giving up control. It's dividing up the work: the subconscious works on the part that it does best, and the mundane mind worries about things like passive voice and comma splices, poor transitions and too much headhopping.

And I don't think it's a romanticization to call this process letting the characters take over. That's a metaphor. Writers use them, no one should be surprised to learn. In this case it's a metaphor for something quite powerful. If anything, it understates what is happening.

Whatever you call it, I think that without it writing can only be mechanical. To take control and stick to the original plan without deviation, it may be a formula for becoming a competent writer, but I think we all have higher aspirations than that ... whether we will ever meet them or not.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 01:12 PM   #52 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

I'm with Boneman*.

I have heard stupid nonsense said by the "follow your dreams" school of writing, just as I have heard the same amount of stupid nonsense said by the "cold hard cash" school. Taken to the extremes, one ends up producing drippy half-asleep stuff comprehensible only (if that) to the author, and the other ends up ripping off whatever's in the charts after careful market research and no writing skill. Both results will be rubbish.

If a technique works for you then do it. But decent writing is a balancing act, and a good novel will contain a mixture of whimsy and reining-in. But I would be wary of attacking anyone else's process of writing if their end result is good, even if the way they expressed it personally irritated me.

*And, since this post crossed with hers, Teresa too. And by the way: Slack, who is the guy in your sig? I've been trying to work if I recognise him for ages.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 01:38 PM   #53 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

Quote:
As for characters going to being a squiggle on a page after the writer's death... Maybe. But I think truly exceptional characters will still speak to readers after the writer is no longer around. You can still feel Ahab's madness, groan along with Frodo as he struggles against the ring and marvel at the love induced stupidity of Romeo and Juliet. I think calling them squiggles belittles the ability of writers who manage to create characters that still mean something centuries after their time.
That depends. Once a work is published - and if it becomes truly great - then I agree that the character can become part of our shared cultural heritage. But that wasn't the point I was making. My squiggles point was addresed to Nik, who appeared to be arguing that his characters get on with it and he just records what they are saying, in the manner of a secretary taking dictation. If Nik is killed by a bus tomorrow, his characters will not continue speaking. They die with him. Unless he has created an Ahab, a Darcy, a Tess or a Mitty, his characters cannot exist without him. And even if he has created an Ahab et al and has got those characters out there into the public consciousness, they still cannot have conversations without him. Ahab speaks to us from Melville's prose and from nowhere else, even if he can be copied (Quint in Jaws being an obvious example).

Boneman and Hopewrites both make very fair points, but I feel it goes a little beyond semantics - which is perhaps why we are having this debate. I think some folk are arguing that once given substance, their characters effectively dictate what happens next in the book. Posters talk of being surprised by the things their characters reveal, which is rather like me being surprised at finding a bottle of half decent claret stashed in my left welly, even though I put it there*.

This goes beyond the imaginative or creative flight than most of us have probably experienced when we are writing and suddenly see a way to do things better than we intended, in that it puts up false barriers in our stories. We start believing that we - or our characters - have created rules or expectations which we must now obey. OK - we express it as a conceit which we all privately know to be untrue, but the conceit itself risks limiting, rather than encouraging, our creativity.

Regards,

Peter


* My pal, Dave Ten Pints, is visiting today and it doesn't do to leave temptation in his path
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Old 23rd November 2011, 01:54 PM   #54 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

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Originally Posted by Peter Graham View Post
Posters talk of being surprised by the things their characters reveal, which is rather like me being surprised at finding a bottle of half decent claret stashed in my left welly, even though I put it there.
For me it's often a case of being surprised to learn the real reason why I put something there. I thought it was just there as set dressing in Act I; then it becomes a vital part of the story in Act II.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 07:01 PM   #55 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

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it puts up false barriers in our stories. We start believing that we - or our characters - have created rules or expectations which we must now obey.
sadly these barriers are not as false as they are.
we create our own reality, if i say "I cant spell" then it becomes nearly impossible for me to learn how to spell correctly. I know because when I stopped feeding myself that lie, when I took down the false barrier to my own ability I learned quite quickly how to spell lots of words that always stumped me before. Its now slowed down and I'm learning fewer words at a time, but I am still learning.
So if a writer says "I dont write my stories, the characters do" and they truly believe that with all their soul, then it will be true. Sadly true because they are limiting them selves. But if that same writer were to have a character revolution themselves and remove the wall they built for themselves then they could write more then just what the characters dictate to them.

what I love best about the gift of communication (of which writing is one of the best mediums in my opinion) is that it offers the opportunity to share our reality with others who may or may not be experiencing a different reality from us. since it is my experience that everyone's reality is at least slightly different, I am glad we have multiple ways of communicating those differences.

Last edited by hopewrites; 23rd November 2011 at 07:04 PM. Reason: still learning to spell
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Old 2nd December 2011, 07:38 PM   #56 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

I usually talk as if my characters have a life of their own (getting some strange looks all around, but that just comes with it). They do, but I run a strict reqruiting process for my stories so I don't end up with nasty surprises. Had I put the characters in my second novel into the first one, they would've (about midway) said something in the line of "I don't think so..." and then gone to the pub. Same goes vice versa, my first novel MC would never do the nasties those guys are planning to do right now.

I never plan anything in detail, not even my characters' backgrounds. They let me know what shaped them later on. That way they shape the story, but the story fits them well enough to go in the direction I want it to. Otherwise, they'd be booted and I'd refill their slots with someone who could take the pressure. Minor stuff are always great though, like when the girl just refused to fall in love with the guy I made for her. Then two others fell in love instead. I must've sounded like I had just watched Days of our Lives when I told that to my boyfriend, but it ended up making so much more sense.

So I agree it's about how you write. I don't plot, I just start out with a general idea and if I run into obstacles I rely on my characters to solve them. Yes, of course metaphorically speaking, but I use my very general plot to know what's next, not to dictate it in case something would change. If it would cause too much trouble though, I think I'd redo my reqruitment process to make better fits. So far it's been working out, and I love the way characters reveal things that makes me go "aha, of course!" instead of me spending days creating a rigid structure that would make the actual writing (to me) much more dull.
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Old 30th January 2012, 05:29 AM   #57 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

I know this is late and all but I competely know what your talking about, where the characters do what they want when they want. I had one character completely fleshed out and introduced at a key moment, but after everything was all done Le'on just shrunk back into a hole not ready to come out yet making start over from just before Le'on was introduced changing the entire storyline and introducing even more characters. It's pretty funny when i think about it.
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Old 30th January 2012, 07:43 AM   #58 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

I know my characters aren't real, but they don't and if I try to tell them they get offended and run off in a huff.

Last edited by AnyaKimlin; 30th January 2012 at 08:32 AM.
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Old 30th January 2012, 08:19 AM   #59 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

When this thread first appeared I was very much of the they do what they like and I kind of put up with it school. Now I'm further down the editing process it is much more controlled.

Which isn't to say things don't still happen eg a main character's probably going to get killed off, which I hadn't expected, but that's because it fits the plot better, not the character going and jumping off a cliff cos he found one!

So I think I'm with Slack on this one; in the early stages I didn't know them well enough, now I'm getting to and can be much more strict at keeping them in the role they should be in.
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Old 30th January 2012, 10:38 AM   #60 (permalink)
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Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?

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I know my characters aren't real, but they don't and if I try to tell them they get offended and run off in a huff.
No, they don't.

They can only run off in a huff if you write the words "and X ran off in a huff when I told her she wasn't real" on the page. And no-one can oblige you to write those words on the page. I have to say that it would make a pretty interesting post-modern piece if you did write those words on the page, but we are all rather too old to still have imaginary friends.

We need to take responsibility and ownership for what we produce, rather than seeing ourselves at the gatekeepers to another world which is not of our making.

Regards,

Peter
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